China Navigation Company Pilgrim Trade Letters

Scope and Content

Papers comprise files of correspondence relating to the management of the Pilgrim routes

Administrative / Biographical History

In 1953, The China Navigation Company began operating a Straits-Jeddah Hadj service, carrying Muslim pilgrims en route to Mecca. The Hadj had become commercially viable in 1869, when the opening of the Suez Canal commenced a regular steamer traffic through the Red Sea. C.N.Co's ally Blue Funnel, with weekly Europe-Far East sailings, soon became involved in this trade and by the time C.N.Co. inherited the service in the 1950s, had been operating a monopoly Malay pilgrimage service for over seventy-five years.

C.N.Co.'s acquisition of the Hadj redressed the loss of its long-standing Straits emigrant service from South China to Singapore and Penang, which had been terminated by the Chinese Government in 1949; and C.N.Co. inaugurated its post-war Hadj service with the newly built Anking II and Anshun - both commissioned for the Straits trade and thus having extensive third class accommodation.

Such was the traditional association of the Serompong Biru (Blue Funnel) with the Malay Hadj, that the two vessels completed their first pilgrim voyages under Blue Funnel colours, to assure continuity of service.

However, it was not the first time that the Company had carried Hadj passengers. In 1877, Newchwang, a newly completed Beancaker, for C.N.Co.'s coastal arm, the Coast Boats Ownery, made a single Jeddah-Straits voyage with returning pilgrims, during her maiden trip out from the U.K.

The Hadj trade was a seasonal one - the annual pilgrimage varying according to Ramadan - and Anking II and Anshun found off-season employment in the Australian service, or on the Recruit: chartered to the British Phosphates Commission to recruit labour in the Gilbert & Ellice Group, for the mines on Ocean Island.

In 1960, Anking II was replaced on the Hadj by the newly acquired Kuala Lumpur - the Taikoo-converted ex-troopship Dilwara - which was employed as a cruise vessel during the off-season.

The 1950s and 1960s saw continued expansion of the Hadj trade. In addition to the Straits pilgrimage, C.N.Co. made voyages from Akaba, Pakistan and the southern Philippines; and in 1966, began a regular service from Borneo and Sarawak.

The seaborne Hadj never proved commercially successful for C.N.Co., however; and by the end of the 1960s was no longer able to compete with the pilgrim services operated by the airlines. These were both faster and more cost-efficient, and this fact was reflected in their cheaper fare structures.

C.N.Co. finally withdrew from the Hadj in 1970, when the Great Malaysia Line was incorporated to take over the seaborne pilgrim service. Anshun and Anking II were sold and Kuala Lumpur went to the breakers.

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